Serious West African Player

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No longer content to play second fiddle to Nigeria, Ghana is reminding the African continent of its potential and its success, as Richard Holmes discovers.

If life is – as Forrest Gump once famously put it – ‘like a box of chocolates’, then the West African nation of Ghana is surely smiling from ear-to-ear right now. As our craving for chocolate pushes cocoa prices to record levels around $3,000/tonne, the world’s second-largest producer of this valuable commodity is seeing steady economic growth, as the ‘black gold’ joins the amber precious metal as a major pillar of Ghana’s thriving economy.

Cocoa may well be the flavour of the month, but it’s Ghana’s extensive gold reserves that have long been the country’s economic anchor, producing three million ounces per year. Ghana is the second-largest gold producer on the continent. Gold has been mined here for over 500 years, and the coastline around the present-day capital of Accra is littered with forts built by Portuguese, Dutch and British armies to protect the lucrative trade. With its slave-trading past swept under the carpet of history, Ghana was known in colonial times as the prosaic ‘Gold Coast’, only transforming into modern-day Ghana when the country became independent in March 1957, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah.

But as with so many newly independent countries, the end of colonialism ushered in a protracted period of instability with coup d’état following coup d’état, as groups struggled for power. Things settled down in the 1990s and, since the turn of the millennium, Ghana has enjoyed peace and stability with consecutive free and fair elections entrenching its position as one of the most successful democracies in West Africa. With stability came prosperity, and today Ghana boasts impressive economic growth against a backdrop of falling inflation – 2010 saw the official inflation rate fall to a 20-year-low of 8.6%.

While official GDP growth is pegged at 7.7% for 2010, the Singapore-based economic think-tank, Economy Watch, bills Ghana as the world’s fastest-growing economy for 2011, with growth based on currency a shade above 20%. And the IMF itself suggests GDP growth of up to 12% is possible, on the back of high prices for oil, gold and cocoa. For, at present, it’s commodities that anchor the Ghanaian economy. Alongside gold and newfound oil, the booming cocoa industry supplies 14% of the global market and remains one of the country’s most vibrant economic sectors.

But Ghana is also working hard to diversify its economy. The state-sponsored Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) facilitates investment across the Ghanaian economy, with a special focus on the manufacturing and services sectors. According to auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ghana’s services sector grew by nearly 10% last year, with business services showing the strongest growth.

“The Ghanaian financial services market offers significant opportunities with the recent oil production, trends in global commodity prices, influx of Foreign Direct Investments and growth in private sector activities within the local market,” says Felix Addo, Country Senior Partner for PwC, in the 2011 Ghana Banking Survey. “In the post-crisis era of the global financial meltdown, banks in Ghana have performed better than expected.”

Against this backdrop of a vibrant, diversifying economy it’s perhaps no surprise that the country has become a regional hub for doing business. “Ghana is a gateway to West Africa,” says Hara Kavallieratos, Corporate Business Development Manager for Legacy Hotels & Resorts, whose Labadi Beach Hotel is a popular destination for conference and corporate travel. “Ghana is a prime destination for development in telecommunications and investment… Accra has some of the largest convention facilities in West Africa [and] regional conferences do converge on this destination.”

“Accra has no doubt become a popular conference destination,” agrees Suzi Yoder, Vice-President International Operations for Best Western Hotels. “There are 10 or so hotels in the four and five-star category in Accra, the bulk of which have international affiliation. They all practise dynamic hotel pricing and have modern facilities.”

As with most successful business destinations, those that succeed are those that provide an environment conducive to getting the job done. And on that front, Ghana is making good progress. In the World Bank’s annual ‘Doing Business’ report, which measures the ease of starting and conducting business in nearly 200 economies across the globe, Ghana moved up 10 places to rank a respectable 67th in 2011.

This places the country well ahead of regional powerhouse Nigeria, which came in at a dismal 134th, or Senegal, ranked 152nd. According to the report, Ghana was one of just a handful of countries that eased credit access, and was the most-improved country in both credit information and legal rights. On all accounts, it seems that Ghana is a calm eddy in the turbulent waters of West Africa. In a region more famous for corruption and conflict, Ghana’s stable, diverse economy is proving to be a safe harbour for modern-day economic explorers.

Ghana Fact File

Population: 24.8 million, of which 51% live in urban areas
Time zone: Ghana falls under Greenwich Mean Time, two hours behind South Africa.
Electricity: Three-prong plug sockets are the square British-style.
Dialling code: +233 + area code + number required
Currency: The Ghanaian Cedi was redenominated in 2007, and old cedi notes can now only be exchanged at the Bank of Ghana. Always exchange currencies at an authorised dealer – not on the street.
GDP growth rate (2010): 7.7%
Language: English is the official language of government and business, although French is spoken widely. Over 50 indigenous dialects are used across the country.
Important cities: Accra is the commercial and cultural heart of Ghana, while the interior town of Kumasi is the traditional home of the Ashanti kingdom. The beaches around Takoradi are a popular tourist-draw.

Do I need a Visa?

Nationals of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), along with citizens of Kenya and Egypt, do not require a visa to visit Ghana. Citizens of Malawi, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and Swaziland are able to receive a free visa on arrival in Ghana. All other nationalities require a visa before entry. In South Africa, applications can be made at the Ghanaian High Commission in Pretoria. Single/multiple entry visas are available for R400/R900 respectively. Remember that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Ghana.
ghanahighcommission.co.za or +27 12 342 5847

Airlines & Airports

All international flights arrive at Kotoka International Airport, 12 kilometres from the centre of Accra. From Kotoka, a handful of commercial airlines serve domestic destinations.

Antrak Air is one of Ghana’s largest domestic airlines, offering three flights per day between Accra and Kumasi. There are also double-daily flights between the capital and Takoradi, as well as services to other destinations. No business class is available on domestic flights.
antrakair.com or +233 302 769 458

CiTylinK offers charter services across the region, as well as scheduled flights to all of Ghana’s major cities. The airline flies three times per day between Accra and Kumasi, with nine flights a week between Accra and Takoradi. There are also daily flights to Tamale, and six flights a week to Sunyani.
flycitylink.com or +233 244 312 003

South African Airways offers three direct flights per week between Johannesburg and Accra, departing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Fares range from R5148 (Economy) to R16 583 (Business).
flysaa.com or +27 11 978 5313

Air Namibia flies four times a week (Tues, Thurs, Sat, Sun) from Windhoek to Accra, with easy connections from both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
airnamibia.com.na or +264 61 299 6111

Arik Air is Africa’s fastest growing airline. Daily flights connect Johannesburg to Lagos, with easy connections onward to Accra. Lie-flat business class seats are not currently offered on board services to South Africa.
arikair.com or +27 11 289 8070

 Car Rental

There are numerous international and local car hire companies at Accra’s Kotoka Airport, as well as in the major cities. An International Driving Permit is required if you plan to hire a car in Ghana. Roads are generally in good condition in the cities, but can be poorly maintained in rural areas. Accidents are common on the roads from Accra to Cape Coast and Kumasi, and drivers should be alert for livestock on the road.

Avis Ghana
199 Soula Loop, Ghana, +233 302 761752
Labadi Beach Hotel 
+233 302 772501, avisghana.com

Europcar
Kotoka International Airport
+233 21 66 55 44, europcar.com

Hertz
Hertz International House

Nima Maamobi Highway North , Accra
+233 21 23 07 73, hertz.co.uk

Did you know?

The name Ghana means ‘warrior king’, and dates back to the ancient civilisations – including the famed Ashanti Empire – that once ruled the northern reaches of the country.

Don’t miss these sights

If you’ve got some spare time after the deals are done, don’t miss Ghana’s top tourist attractions:

Cape Coast: The coastline west of Accra was once the largest slave-trading centre in West Africa, and the dilapidated forts that line the seashore bear testimony to this dark period in Ghana’s history. It’s a history well told at the atmospheric Cape Coast Castle, which is home to a superb museum to the slave trade. The entry fee includes an excellent guided tour.

Busua & Dixcove: Need to escape the city? These two villages west of Takoradi offer some of the best beaches in Ghana. Busua is the more developed of the two, while Dixcove is popular for its laid-back bungalows.

Kakum National Park: An easy day-trip from Cape Coast, Kakum is particularly famous for the 600 species of butterfly that call this lush landscape home. A rope walkway through the forest canopy is the highlight, but there are guided hikes and tree-house campsites on offer too.

Kumasi: Once the capital of the wealthy Ashanti kingdom, this inland city is a patchwork of ethnic neighbourhoods. The highlight is the bustling daily market – a great spot to stock up on local crafts such as Ghana’s famous brightly-coloured ‘kente’ cloth.

Where to stay

Need a good night’s sleep in Accra? Finding a business hotel that won’t break the bank can be hard, but you won’t go wrong with these top choices…

Mövenpick Ambassador Hotel
This brand-new hotel is one of the best Accra has to offer. Set amidst lush gardens, the hotel is just minutes from the city centre and is close to government ministries, the National Theatre and the Accra International Conference Centre. Of the 260 rooms the Executive Club rooms are your best bet, offering a private 24-hour Club Lounge. There are meeting and function rooms for up to 600 guests.
moevenpick-hotels.com or +233 302 611 000

Labadi Beach Hotel
The city centre is just minutes away, but you can leave the office behind when you check into Labadi Beach Hotel. With its beachfront location, swimming pool and on-site fitness centre, this 164-room resort-style hotel is an especially good bet when travelling with family. Fast Wi-Fi and conferencing facilities for up to 180 delegates are another bonus for business travellers. There’s a 10% discount for online bookings.
labadi.legacyhotels.co.za or +233 30 27 72 501

Holiday Inn Accra Airport
With a free shuttle from the airport terminal, this is a good bet for connecting flights or flying visits. Business travellers will enjoy the complimentary high-speed Internet, a MiniGym and a 16-metre pool. For a taste of Ghana, try the okra crab stew in the excellent Wiase Restaurant.
holidayinn.com or +233 302 740 930

Best Western Accra Airport
Close to both the airport and city centre, this four-star hotel is well positioned for corporate visitors. High-speed Internet, complimentary breakfast, airport shuttle and on-site restaurant make business travel a breeze.
bestwestern.com or +233 302 216570           

Golden Tulip Kumasi City
The best hotel in Ghana’s second city, the Golden Tulip offers 160 air-conditioned rooms ranging from standard to luxury suites. Situated close to the city centre, the hotel is a 20-minute drive from Kumasi Airport.
goldentulipkumasicity.com or + 233 32 20 83777

Richard Holmes